New OIC initiative aims to empower women in the Muslim world
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is about to launch its own independent organization for women — a landmark achievement in its efforts to empower women in the Muslim world.
In August, OIC Secretary-General Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen announced that the ratification quorum of the Statute of the OIC’s Women Development Organization (WDO) had been attained and thus entered into force, paving the way for this nascent specialized organization to start its activities and play a central role in promoting the OIC’s role in empowering women and advancing their status. This week, the first meeting of the WDO’s council will be held to discuss the structure and internal regulations.
The WDO was established by virtue of a resolution adopted by the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers in 2009 as an international specialized organization based in Cairo. The statute of the organization was adopted in 2010. Since then, great efforts have been exerted by the OIC and Egypt, the host country of the WDO’s headquarters, to mobilize the ratification process, but world events during this period hampered the momentum. Nevertheless, the support and enthusiasm for establishing the organization was evident, as member states voiced the need for it in order to address common challenges in protecting and promoting women’s rights, which are recognized by Islam, and enhancing their cooperation and exchange of experiences toward advancing women’s status in society.
The WDO will work on developing the plans, programs and projects that are necessary to implement the policies, orientations and decisions of the OIC in the area of women’s development, welfare and empowerment in its member states. It is mandated to organize events, workshops, courses and training for capacity-building, as well as to carry out studies to enhance the role of women in society and ensure their full rights.
During an informal consultative ministerial meeting on women’s empowerment in the Muslim world, held last year in Cairo, the participants identified some of the topics the WDO will focus on once it commences its operations. Four main themes were highlighted: The role of women in combating extremism, women’s leadership and decision-making, protecting women against all forms of violence, and women’s economic empowerment and financial inclusion.
The Women Development Organization will address common challenges in protecting and promoting women’s rights.
Contemporary societies are facing a real challenge in combating extremism, and involving women in the measures and strategies developed at all stages is important. Terrorist organizations are increasingly interested in recruiting women for various reasons, and women are motivated or forced to join them for ideological, social, political or economic reasons. Since the reasons and motives are not the same, a single strategy cannot be applied in all countries, but rather the specificity of each region should be taken into account, as well as its political, social and cultural diversity.
On the other hand, there are some measures and policies on which all states concerned can agree on — in particular, the need to raise awareness about the existence of women’s terrorism and the possibility of women’s extremism, which may be comparable to or even more radical than that of men. In addition, there is a need to expand the circle of those concerned with countering extremism, especially women, by enabling them to play a proactive role in preventing and addressing the signs and indications that can appear in their children and social surroundings. There is also a need to involve women in the design, implementation and evaluation of all policies, laws, procedures, programs, plans, measures and researches pertaining to combating extremism and terrorism in all countries, whether Islamic or not.
On the issue of women in decision-making positions, although much progress has been achieved in the OIC member states on this front, more efforts are required to advance equal opportunities, promote gender justice, strengthen women’s role in national development, and engage the youth. The marginalization and discrimination of women, as well as the failure to integrate them into the decision-making process, constitute some of the main obstacles facing women, preventing them from having an effective role in the developmental process of their societies.
As for protecting women against violence, unfortunately women and girls continue to suffer from abuse, domestic violence and human trafficking, particularly in conflict zones and under occupation, as well as being subjected to harmful practices in some countries, such as child marriage, female genital mutilation and honor killing. Their suffering is mostly in silence due to societal pressures, economic conditions and a lack of access to protection and legal recourse or means of support. The role of religious leaders, judges and security personnel is important in these matters. With regards to economic empowerment, partnerships between the public sector, civil society organizations, the private sector, universities, research centers and the media are key to achieving women’s economic empowerment and involvement in the financial field.
Clearly, much is expected of this new OIC organization as it aims to address the challenges and obstacles facing women and help them reach their full potential in the Muslim world and live in dignity. The coronavirus disease crisis has compounded the social and economic burden on women and threatens to erode whatever gains had been made even in basic rights such as education. However, in order for this nascent organization to succeed in its objectives, it needs to be provided with the necessary resources, capacities and, most importantly, political will.
- Maha Akeel is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. Twitter: @MahaAkeel1